Congratulations! You’re ready to sign your first lease and move the few items of furniture you saved from college into a space of your very own — no RA, no parents, no on-site supervision to speak of. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. Considering you’ve never rented before, you might not know how to anticipate and avoid potential problems. To avoid being trapped in a lease you can’t afford, or living with a roommate that holds impromptu parties ‘til dawn, try these tips that will help you make sure your first apartment is a complete success.
Know (And Respect) Your Maximum Rent
While you’re touring a brand-new building with luxurious features like a two-story gym, free WiFi, or a literal robot to park your car for you, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re earning $10 an hour. After rent, you’ll still have almost $200 left for groceries and bills, so what’s the problem, right?
Entering the renting world means entering the era of budgeting. You’ll now need to track the money that you’re making and spending before you make or spend any of it. To keep your apartment search realistic from the first, do a little bit of math: Add up your monthly bills, including your prospective rent, food and your going-out money, and subtract it from your income to see what kind of wiggle room you’d have. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends that you spend no more than 30% of your income on rent to avoid being housing cost-burdened. As a student or recent grad, this might be a difficult rule to follow, but try to stay close to it and keep unexpected expenses in mind.
An alternative method of budgeting is the 50/30/20 rule: 50% of your income goes toward the essential (rent, bills, and food), 30% to personal expenses, and the last 20% goes into your savings (which you’ll need to start building).
Master the Walk-Through
An apartment tour is incredibly brief compared to the amount of time you’ll potentially be spending there, so it’s crucial to get as much out of it as you can. Linger in the rooms a little bit; don’t just check to make sure they’re all there. Look out the windows and keep an ear open for any neighbor or street noise. Check for traces of water damage or pest problems in kitchen cabinets and under the kitchen bathroom sinks, and inquire about any pest-management policies. Give the toilets a flush and check out the laundry area.
While you’re there, also ask questions to find out apartment details you won’t necessarily be able to see at the showing:
What’s the average age of the building’s tenants?
How long do people typically stay?
What’s the parking situation like, and does it change at certain times of the day/week/year?
Does the building allow smoking?
Are the apartments laid out so that living rooms abut living rooms, or is your neighbor’s TV going to be pumping sound into your bedroom?
Is there an enforced “quiet time” in the building?
Think about the things you do in a typical week, and try to imagine them happening in that apartment.
Cautiously Court Your Roommates
Having someone to split the rent with can make a world of difference for the type of apartment you can afford, but mismatched roommates can cause misery for all involved. If you’re going to have a roommate, make sure the two of you have compatible lifestyles, sleep schedules, and rent budgets. When you’ve found the roomie for you, discuss early how you’re going to handle groceries and shared bills — and make sure you’re both on the lease, so they can’t leave you liable for the full bill should they decide to move out.
Your very first apartment will be a place and a time you’ll never forget — and hopefully it will be remembered for only the best reason. Follow these tips, and your lease term will be a success!
Sam Radbil is a contributing member of the marketing and communications team at ABODO, an online apartment marketplace. ABODO was founded in 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin. And in just three years, the company has grown to more than 30 employees, raised over $8M in outside funding and helps more than half a million renters find a new home each month.